Getting a Grip on US customs


If you are a first-time international buyer, it can be easy to overlook US customs. When you have good communication with your manufacturer, unexpected issues—such as your items have been refused entry or the customs tax on this container of sneakers is 48%—may not be entirely foreseeable. However, from the viewpoint of the manufacturer, once the order has left their hands, their job is done.  They do not see passing US Customs as their responsibility.  And they are right: customs is your responsibility. Here’s what you need to know about US customs to avoid unexpected problems.

How much duty / tax will my order incur?

In many cases, your supplier will tell you what customs category your product falls under. For more insight, ask them what HTS code they use.
Pro tip:  Double-check the HTS website to confirm that your product has the correct HTS code. If there is any doubt, get a ruling from customs at your port of entry.

What documents will I need?

The documents you need will depend on the shipping method you choose. Click here for more info on shipping options.
For ocean shipments, you will need:
1. Commercial Invoice – to be provided by the supplier
2. Bill of Lading – to be provided by the supplier
3. Importer Security Filing Information (ISF) – to be provided by the supplier 
4. Arrival notice – to be provided by the freight forwarder

For air shipments, you will need:
1. Commercial Invoice – to be provided by the supplier
2. Airway Bill of Lading – to be provided by the freight forwarder

Do I need a customs broker?

In short, yes, you do need a customs broker. Customs brokers will do all the heavy lifting once your shipment arrives. After you’ve found a local one that you like, you can ask them to estimate the costs involved in your order, including Merchandise Processing Fees, Harbor Maintenance Fees, etc.
Pro tip #1You can also ask them to quote a delivery to your warehouse as they usually have good relationships with ground transportation companies.

Pro tip #2Unless your order is under $2,500, you will need a customs bond. Customs brokers can help you get one, either a single entry or a continuous entry bond to cover future shipments over the course of a year. You will have to provide verification of your tax ID number and identity, and sign a Power of Attorney to allow them to purchase the bond on your behalf.

What else do I need to do?

Hand in all the documents to your customs broker and follow their guidance in regards to your specific order. Depending on location, size of the order, and the contents, your customs broker will let you know if you need anything else. The sooner you get in touch with a customs broker, the better off you will be.

By Nathalie De Clercq



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